Beliefs, Values, Assumptions

Posted on April 27, 2023

A hand reaches out to grasp a light bulb floating in space.

This guest article is by ELGL member Matt Hirschinger, Colorado local government and DEI professional. Read all of Matt’s other articles at the Social Justice –> Government homepage.

In January 2020 I started the Social Justice -> Local Government series as I embarked on my own learning journey, pursuing a graduate degree in the Humanities with a concentration in Social Justice, sharing the best learnings and insights I pick up with ELGL. With my degree finished, this is the first of a few final posts to help conclude the series.

One disconnect between academia and the professional world are theories. We’re taught philosophical theories in our respective disciplines where leading scholars state what they think we should be doing, how we should do it, and why are we doing it in the first place. We get to write about and hear our classmates debate the pros and cons of each. Then we don’t hear much about said theories again once we graduate.

Perhaps those scholars were too caught up in hypotheticals and not real world applications? Maybe the schools we attended needed something for us to do to prove ourselves, but couldn’t make us labor in our field directly… so interesting theories were used instead? Or maybe those theories… in other words those beliefs, values, and assumptions are still applicable, and we’re missing out on an opportunity to use them intentionally?

A necessary part of social justice is to understand and define our current practices, how we operate. Only by understanding how we’re going about our work on a more fundamental, intrinsic level can we effectively create change. How are decisions actually made whether in meetings, side conversations, through specific processes? Who gets a voice at the table and how influential is that voice? What are the actual impacts of our work? These aren’t easy questions to answer.

Part of the challenge is these questions usually face resistance.

Most of us don’t like to be categorized, don’t like being told that our beliefs, values, and assumptions may fit neatly into a common way of thinking, or perhaps is a blend of a few different paradigms. We want to have our cake and eat it and thus what we may put on paper for our vision and mission statement is aspirational, to be employee-first, and community-first, and forward-thinking-first when logically it doesn’t make sense for everything to be first. At some point we’ll have to choose what comes first when we face tough situations, and broadcasting our choice leaves us vulnerable and open to criticism from those who disagree.

The other hurdle is just by trying to better define our department’s, our organization’s, our community’s way of thinking we are already challenging it. By discussing our beliefs, values, and assumptions candidly we move beyond easy platitudes of “best practices” or silent expectations to uphold the status quo. We start to see what it is we do great, who we serve well, and in turn we find what’s been kept low on our list of priorities or left off entirely. It is at this point we find room to change, to grow, to do better.

I want to share but a few of broad theories that I was introduced to, a few sets of beliefs and assumptions to spark some thinking about how our work will look different through these perspectives. Like any social theory there are many branches, disagreements, and different approaches to each of the below, this is just offering a general summary.



Feminist theories place sex and gender at the forefront and focus on female experiences and realities. If facilities are built with the average height and strength of men in mind, then cabinets will be a bit harder to reach, doors more of a struggle to open (especially with a laptop in one hand and coffee in another). If our views of leadership lean towards male-associated traits, women have more to overcome to prove themselves.


Postcolonial theories place an emphasis on how dominant cultures, particularly “Western” ones, continue to influence and impact communities locally and globally even after formal colonization has mostly ended. We very much control others’ lands today through zoning, land use, decide where NIMBYism prevails and where it doesn’t. When we gloss over our local historical wrongs in exchange for celebrating only what we’re happy about, we lose sight of why some areas of our community are more prosperous than others.


Postmodernist theories are primarily a direct challenge to “modernism”, our mainstream beliefs and attitudes that formed during industrialization that emphasize scientific, objective truth and efficiency. What is the true role, the true impact of code enforcement… what purposes does it serve our community… what are the actual impacts of enforcement if we dig deeper? Is a citizen committee a tool to get community input on important decisions, or a means to set up guardrails and influence our most active residents? both? neither?

Civil Disobedience

Leaders like Ghandi and MLK were very strategic and intentional with the movements they led, very much defined power structures and ways to undermine them effectively. Even if it is not our place as civil servants to organize marches or demonstrations, we too have ways of challenging systems and processes we find unjust. The purpose of this blog post is but one way, for us to use our insider knowledge and access to define and discuss our beliefs, values, and assumptions.


I want to thank those of you reading this post whether this is your first Social Justice -> Local Government reading or if you’ve followed along the whole time. I have four more posts planned before I close this chapter and start planning what comes next.

See you next post!

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